Developmental Reading Disorder
Developmental Reading Disorder
A condition in which reading ability is significantly below the norm in relation to chronological age and overall intellectual potential.
Also referred to as reading disability, reading difficulty, and dyslexia, developmental reading disorder is the most commonly diagnosed learning disability in the United States. Estimates of its prevalence vary widely, ranging from 4% of children (given by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) to 20%, the figure given by a 1995 study directed by Sally E. Shaywitz of Yale University. (According to the latter figure, some 10 million children in the United States have some form of reading disability.) Reading disabilities are diagnosed up to five times more frequently in boys than girls, although some sources claim that this figure is misleading because boys are more likely to be screened for learning disabilities due to their higher incidence of disruptive behavior, which draws the attention of educators and other professionals. Most reading
Types of and causes of reading disorders
Reading disabilities have been classified as either dyseidetic, dysphonetic, or mixed. Children with the dys-eidetic type are able to sound out individual letters phonetically but have trouble identifying patterns of letters when they are grouped together. Their spelling tends to be phonetic even when incorrect ("laf' for "laugh"). By comparison, dysphonic readers have difficulty relating letters to sounds, so their spelling is totally chaotic. They are able to recognize words they have memorized but cannot sound out new ones to figure out what they are. They may be able to read near the appropriate grade level but are poor spellers. Children with mixed reading disabilities have both the dyseidetic and dysphonic types of reading disorder.
Specific problems that can be involved in a reading disability include reversals and other errors involving letter position (the classic symptoms of dyslexia); bizarre spelling; omissions and additions; repetitions; failure to recognize words; hesitant oral reading; difficulty repeating or recalling polysyllabic words or sequences of letters or digits; word-by-word rather than contextual reading; and too much or too little reliance on contextual cues. In addition, children with developmental reading disorder often have a history of late speech development and generally demonstrate slowness in processing information.
A variety of causes have been advanced for developmental reading disorder. Researchers favoring a biological explanation have cited heredity, minimal brain dysfunction, delays in neurological development, and failure of the right and left hemispheres to function properly together.
Developmental reading disorder is often identified in the first grade, when reading instruction begins. Children with reading disabilities lag behind their peers in reading progress and have serious spelling problems. They also tend to have trouble writing (many have poor handwriting), have an unusually small vocabulary, and favor activities that do not require verbal skills. Also, like children with other learning disabilities, those with developmental reading disorder often earn poor grades and dislike school, reading, and homework. Even at the preschool stage, there are certain problems, such as trouble sounding out words and difficulty understanding words or concepts, that may foreshadow a reading disability.
Remedial reading techniques
Reading disabilities are diagnosed on the basis of individualized testing. Schools are required by law to provide specialized instruction for children with learning disabilities, including developmental reading disorder. The child may receive special help from his or her teacher within the regular classroom setting ("corrective reading"). Preferably, however, she will work with a reading specialist ("remedial reading"), either privately or in a small group that meets in a special classroom, generally called a resource room, reading center, or reading lab. (Reading specialists are certified in many states.) A variety of teaching methods are used; in many cases if one approach isn't successful with a particular child, the teacher will try another one. The synthetic phonics method, which was once the mainstay of reading instruction nationwide, is often used for remedial reading instruction. Children start by learning basic consonant and vowels sounds, first separately and then in combination (usually starting with consonants and short vowels and progressing from there to three-letter words), and vocabulary words are only introduced when all the letter sounds have already been studied. Students are taught to sound out unfamiliar words one letter or letter-group at a time based on their sounds. With the opposite approach—the whole-word or analytic method—students first acquire a basic vocabulary of words they know by sight and then study the relationships of letters and sounds by analyzing how they operate within these words. Initially a few phonetic units are taught, beginning with consonants and short vowel sounds, and the sounds are combined in a particular sequence, with tracing, writing, and spelling used as supplementary activities.
Another remedial reading technique is the kinesthetic approach (also known as the Orton-Gillingham method), in which new words are taught using a procedure nicknamed VAKT for the four senses that are involved: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactual. It is basically a phonetic approach that teaches individual letter sounds, then blends them into words. What is unique is the multisensory component, which involves writing each new letter, sound, or word on an oversize card and having the child trace it with her finger while pronouncing it. This activity is followed by several other steps over a period of weeks, including visualization and memorization. In contrast to the Orton-Gillingham method—which is most helpful for children with a dyseidetic reading disorder, who learn letter sounds more easily than whole words—the Fernald method uses a kinesthetic approach but emphasizes whole words. In addition to tracing, writing, and saying selected
The language experience, or whole-language approach, which has aroused controversy since its adoption in the regular reading curriculums of many schools since the 1980s, is also used for remedial reading. A whole-word approach whose main emphasis is on motivation and creativity, it attempts to get the child involved in reading by introducing words through colorful, imaginative stories. Other approaches to remedial reading include the color-coding method (which associates letters with specific colors that are then blended to create sounds) and the neuropsychological approach, which utilizes the findings of advanced brain research to devise activities targeting certain types of neurological functioning.
The outcome of treatment for reading disabilities varies, depending on the quality of the remedial program, the severity of the disorder, and the motivation and intelligence of the child. Given the proper remedial help, some children with reading disabilities have been able to successfully complete high school, college, and even graduate school, while others have been forced to limit their vocational choices to fields that do not demand strong literacy skills. Factors that have been found to contribute to the success of treatment include early intervention (elementary rather than secondary school); an IQ over 90; instruction by qualified reading specialists; and a total of over 50 hours of instruction.
Goldsworthy, Candace L. Developmental Reading Disorders: A Language-Based Treatment Approach. San Diego: Singular Publishing Group, 1996.
Lipson, Marjorie Y., and Karen K. Wixson. Assessment and Instruction of Reading Disability: An Interactive Approach. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
Manzo, Ula C. Literacy Disorders: Holistic Diagnosis and Remediation. Fort Worth: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovitch, 1993.
The Learning Disabilities Association of America
Address: 4156 Library Rd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15234
Telephone: (412) 341-1515
Dyslexia Research Foundation
Address: 600 Northern Boulevard
Great Neck, NY 11021
Telephone: (516) 482-2888
Nation Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. (NCLD)
Address: 99 Park Ave., 6th Floor
New York, NY 10016
Telephone: (212) 687-7211
Orton Dyslexia Society
Address: 8600 LaSalle Road
Chester Building, Suite 382
Baltimore, MD 21286-2044
Telephone: (410) 296-0232; toll-free information line: